The ACLU of Utah released a statement on Saturday 18th of July about the recent issues of police brutality in Utah. Since the beginning of 2020 ACLU Utah has witnessed “disproportionate and militarized police action in response to protests and First Amendment speech that criticizes elected leaders and law enforcement in Utah.”
I would like to focus on one particularly harrowing instance of excessive, militarized, and dangerous police brutality: The Police’s response on July 9th’s protest. On the morning of July 9th, District Attorney Sim Gill decided that the two police officers involved in the shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajalos acted within the law and would not be reprimanded even though they had enacted clearly excessive and deadly use of force.
Following this statement by the DA, there was a gathering of protestors outside of the DA’s building. Some painted the building red and some broke a few windows. However, before any instances of property damage, there were multiple eyewitness reports at this protest (reinforced by the live-streamed footage provided by KSL) that the Police arrived in full riot gear well before any supposed incidents of civil disobedience. That is to say, the Police were ready and armed to enact excessive force onto these protestors and just waited for the right moment to do so. When the perfect excuse occurred, in the form of a few broken windows, ACLU Utah reported that the Law enforcement charged into the protestors and began to violently attack them with “shields, batons, and shot at them with less-lethal projectiles.”
I spoke with Michelle Mower, a protestor who was a victim of the Police’s violence on July 9th. As we went over the details of her experience at the protest, I realized something: There was a clear misuse of a less-than-lethal projectile that could have easily killed Michelle.
Michelle was at the front line of the protestors when the Police charged in and began to violently attack. Michelle had her armed locked with other protestors when a cop came at her with his riot shield and began to smash her with it. This resulted in him breaking her nose.
Moments later Michelle recounted seeing an officer, who was less than 4 feet away from her, aim his weapon at her and fired a projectile of some sort at her leg. The projectile ripped through her jeans and created a wound that was roughly 2-3 inches deep and 3-4 inch wide on the outside of her leg.
She had to be rushed to the hospital where she received critical care. However, doctors couldn’t even sew the wound shut due to how wide and deep the cut was. Now Michelle has a gaping wound in her leg that will take weeks to fully heal/
Another protester photographed the Cop who fired at Michelle and even found the shell that was fired. I later identified the shell belonging to a “Super-Sock Red” Bean Bag Impact Round. From my research, I found that the sellers of this round clearly state the range of the bean bag is 5-20 yards(roughly 15-60 feet). The SLCPD has thus made a major error because they do not have any policy on the optimal or correct usage of the beanbag (at least nothing I could find in the 827 page Police Policy Manual for SLCPD). However, there are other departments to look at for guidance on the correct use of the beanbag rounds.
According to guidelines in a 2009 report by Los Angeles-based Police Assessment Resource Center, the “optimal distance for a beanbag” is between 21 and 50 feet. The report warned that the “beanbag rounds present a risk of death or serious physical injury at less than 10 feet when fired.” I also found that the Wichita Police Department has a seven-page policy on the use of less-lethal weapons, including that of the bean bag. The Policy for bean bag rounds states, “…at less than 7 yards (21 feet) the risk of serious injury or death is greatly increased.” The policy then goes on to warn that bean bags must be used “with the utmost judicious consideration.”
From the guidelines given by the manufacturers, sellers, and even other Police departments, the shot fired at Michelle was gravely misused and put her in unnecessary danger. Furthermore, it inflicted excessive damage that could have almost turned deadly; let us consider for a moment that the wound was roughly less than 6 inches away from her femoral artery. This femoral artery is located in the groin region and is .5 to 1.5 inches beneath the skin. Its primary function is to supply blood to the lower part of one’s body. Due to its design and usage if the femoral artery is severed one can bleed incredibly fast and oftentimes die. Due to the severe damage that was inflicted on Michelle, if the shot was just a few inches towards her inner thigh she could have easily had her femoral artery severed and potentially died by bleeding out.
Considering all of this, it is clear SLCPD lacks a clear policy on the safe use of less-than-lethal weaponry. Furthermore, SLCPD engaged in serious misconduct when their Officer fired a beanbag bullet four feet away at Michelle. He put her life in serious risk and she wasn’t even a threat in the slightest. After all, she had just had her nose broken only a moment before she was shot. Michelle endured violent act after violent act and almost died for it. All because she was protesting against injustice.
SLCPD came to the protest on the 9th looking for a reason to oppress those seeking justice. They were ready in riot gear to do so before anything happened and it is clear SLCPD engaged in excessive violence for what was a mainly non-violent protest. They even almost killed Michelle by their misuse of “less-lethal” weaponry. We demand justice for the violence enacted on Bernardo. Additionally, we demand justice for those who experienced police brutality protesting SLCPD’s continued excessive use of violence and lack of accountability!